by | Jun 15, 2023 | Leadership, Marriage, Ministry Leader, Pastor, Uncategorized

Today we welcome Dave Barringer to the blog. Dave is a husband, father, and a lead pastor at a vibrant church here in Michigan. Dave will unpack how he and his wife Anne have kept their marriage strong while navigating twenty-six years of pastoral ministry. Enjoy ~ John.


In my hobby of rock climbing, I’ve become familiar with an activity called “Slacklining.” It’s what climbers do to take up their time when they’re not on the cliffs. Basically, it’s walking, jumping, or balancing along a suspended length of flat webbing. Sounds like tightrope walking, doesn’t it? Well, what sets it apart from a tightrope is in the material and the fact that the tension varies so the line bounces like a very long and narrow trampoline.  Where you may walk on a tightrope, the slackline brings a completely different dynamic by giving more options for jumping, flipping, and anything else you’d like to attempt high above the ground. Truth be told, I tend to watch more than participate. But what draws me to this sport is just what I pointed out: with the tension and material used, it adds a completely different dynamic.


Marriage is marriage. Ministry leadership is ministry leadership. By themselves they can be their own tightropes to walk as they possess their own tensions. Put them together, it’s a slackline; a different dynamic seemingly unlike many other professions in how it affects the union of husband and wife. And this dynamic presents challenges that have to ability to put a heavy strain on the marriage.


For 26 years, Anne and I have been slacklining this tension between our marriage and our ministry. What I’d like to share are a few lessons we’ve gathered from our experiences and some gleaning from others’ lives.


Your first calling before your “calling.” 

In my early years of ministry, I was privy to a word that has so many nuances to it: sacrifice. I’ve heard so many ministers speak about “sacrifice in ministry” that I’m not sure if we all understand what that means. For some, they see sacrifice as making changes and adjustments that come from lives being surrendered to Jesus. For others, sacrifice is about laying aside everything that gets in the way of their “calling” regardless of what or who it is. If I were to be completely honest, it seems that the latter is what I’ve heard more about in my formative years and, unfortunately, I’ve seen the devastating result of holding on to a mentality like that. “Ask me about my thriving ministry but don’t ask me about the state of my marriage and/or family.”


This is the first tension to work through. It’s called the tension of priority. Priority wise, marriage is my first calling before my “calling” (into ministry). I am called to be my wife’s husband before I am called to a congregation to be their pastor. Where the tension happens is living that out in such a way that my faithfulness to my position NEVER supplants my faithfulness to Anne.

Does it challenge our calendars? Yes. Are there changes we’ve had to make personally and maritally? Absolutely. Have we made mistakes? Of course. Yet regardless of what we’ve done or where we’ve served, the one constant we fall back on is this: Our devotion to each other will naturally enhance the ministry and it’s never sacrificed for the sake of ministry. So, it is the priority of our marriage that we start working from. It’s that priority that everything else will flow out of.


Practical Application: Adaptation, not sacrifice. Throughout the ministry calendar, there are seasons that have more demand than others. When those times come, learn to adapt to them instead of sacrificing for the sake of them. Adapt your rhythm so your marriage is a first thought and not an afterthought.


Rhythm will make or break you.

In the words of the great theologian Gloria Estefan, “Rhythm is gonna get you.” It’s not a theory in life but a fact. What you are living now is the product of both the pace of what you do and what is actually done within that rhythm. What is so peculiar about marriage and ministry is regardless of what your “work hours” are, you are always on the clock. I don’t cease to be Pastor Dave when I leave the office. I’m Pastor Dave at the mall, the gym, the library, or even social media. I may be out of the office, but when someone sees me, the “Hey Pastor Dave” immediately pulls me back into the realization that I am a minister 24/7. We are always Pastor Dave and Anne.


This second tension is so important to get right. It’s called the tension of intentionality. We live between what is vital to our marriage/family and what is expected (by congregants, board, ourselves, etc.). Ministers are stretched between what we need to do and what everyone (including ourselves) demands us to do. So, if the top priority is to remain the top priority, then you have to be intentional about carrying a rhythm to your schedule that includes intentional connections to your spouse. From consistent date nights to moments of reconnection, to down time to recoup and rest, if your marriage isn’t intentionally grown, you are intentionally leaving it in someone else’s hands.


Practical Application: Give your best to your spouse, not leftovers. If I take Monday for my day off, Anne is only getting the part of me left over from the ministry on the weekend. I take Friday off, so she has a rested husband who’s ready to be completely present with her. If we’re getting together for a date during the week, I put it down as an “appointment” in my calendar. That way, if people ask for my time on that specific day/time, I get to say, “I have an appointment.”  People don’t ask me to move an appointment. They have asked me to move things that are personal.


The “two become one” not “you two and ministry become one.”

One of the best questions I’ve ever been asked is, “If you stepped out of your position as pastor, would you still be David Barringer?” In other words, is my identity so steeped in ministry that it is no longer my calling but my identity. Some couples are so steeped into what they do that they don’t know each other outside of their roles in ministry.

I’m not “Pastor Dave” to Anne. I’m Dave to her (David Matthew if I’m in trouble). And if I left my position in ministry, it wouldn’t compromise our marriage because the “chord of three strands” (Eccl. 4:12) isn’t Dave, Anne, and ministry. It’s Jesus, Dave, and Anne. We have learned to live lives outside of the pulpit and church duties.


This last tension is crucial for the longevity of your marriage. It’s the tension of perspective. I’m talking about your “frame of reference.” If your marriage only thrives when its frame of reference is your position in ministry, what will happen if God closes the door to your present ministry? If your perspective of marriage is fed by your position, then what does retirement look like for you two? Your perspective of your oneness needs to cling to the person of Christ and not the task He’s temporarily assigned you with. Assignments come and go. God changes things as He wills. But if our perspective of the health of our marriage is tied to whether we hold a title, all successes and failures will be dependent on those.


Practical Application: Find ways to invest in your marriage that have nothing to do with ministry. The health of your leadership should flow out of the health of your marriage (not the other way around). Instead of looking for the next leadership book, invest in material or conferences that pour into your marriage. Get objective mentors in your life that understand both healthy marriage and healthy ministry. Have ongoing conversations with your spouse to “check-in” to see how healthy things are and what the two of you can do together to continue to create a long-lasting healthy marriage.


Listen, marriage in ministry is a slackline. It’s a different dynamic. There’s tension that lingers there. What we must value is within that tension exist a lot of opportunities to really live a life that thrives in ministry and doesn’t crumble because of it.  Today is a day to look and ask yourselves, “How are we handling the tension between our marriage and the ministry God has called us into?Tension isn’t something to avoid but something to pay attention to. Why? Navigated correctly, it can be the very thing that God uses to grow your marriage and build healthy ministry without sacrificing either one.


Cheering for you,